There are a few scents that to me unequivocally evoke spring—besides the earthy fragrance of thawing soil. Hyacinth blooms fall into that category, and are among my favorite spring-blooming bulbs. They usually bloom between early spring and mid spring, and their blooms can last up to four weeks. Learning how and when to plant hyacinth bulbs will ensure you get to enjoy those luscious, fragrant flowers the following spring. Read on for timing and planting tips.
Shopping for hyacinth bulbs
There are two types of hyacinth bulbs you’ll find in stores, catalogs, and online. They usually start to appear on shelves in August or early September. Common hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis), sometimes called true hyacinths, are the bloom-filled plants that have a long, cylindrical stem filled with flowers. Bulbs come in a variety of colors, from different shades of purples and blues, pinks, and corals, to pure white.
Grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) are much smaller. You almost have to get down to ground level to appreciate them. Their hues range from pinks and blues to white. The flower clusters resemble little bloom-covered umbrellas.
Where to plant hyacinth bulbs
Hyacinths make great garden border plants. Both common and grape hyacinths have a shorter stature, so they work well planted in front of other bulbs or perennials. Plant them around a tree or along a walkway. Arrange them in groups—odd numbers are best.
Make sure your planting site is in full sun to partial shade, and has friable, soil with good drainage. If the area is too wet, the bulbs may rot.
Flower bulbs have all the nutrients and energy they need to bloom in the spring. But if you’re planting in an area with poorer soil, you may want to amend the planting area with a bit of compost.
Hyacinth bulbs are often planted as annuals, but these spring flowers will come back year after year. The first year’s blooms will be the most lush and bloom-filled. Hyacinths left in the garden may produce less blooms in subsequent years.
Grape hyacinths, on the other hand, will multiply over time. They reproduce by bulb offsets, and by seed, so you can expect to see more flowers in the years that follow your first planting.
When to plant hyacinth bulbs
Hyacinths need a period to chill between planting time and the next year when they bloom. That’s why they are planted in northern climate gardens in the fall. They are hardy down to about USDA zone 4, which is about -30°F to -20°F (-34.4°C to -28.9°C). In warmer climates, pre-chill the bulbs in the refrigerator before planting.
Wait until the weather cools down in mid to late fall before you dig in your flower bulbs. For me, in Southern Ontario, that’s usually October or November. You can plant bulbs right up until the ground freezes.
A warm spell can cause the bulbs to sprout prematurely. Though those parts of the plant may look unsightly in the spring (the foliage tips may turn yellow or brown), if the bulb remains underground, it should be okay over the winter. This is why depth is important. Add a little winter mulch to protect the area.
Digging in hyacinth bulbs
Read your bulb package carefully for planting depth and spacing recommendations. Plant hyacinth bulbs about six inches (15 cm) deep. Spacing should be about six inches apart. Grape hyacinths only need to be dug in about three to four inches (7.5 to 10 cm) deep and two inches (5 cm) apart.
This is a great opportunity to clear the area of any weeds, so they don’t multiply before spring. You also don’t want them competing with your bulbs for growing space.
You can dig individual holes for your bulbs, but if you’re planting a larger area, you may just want to dig up one big hole.
A steel bulb planter can lift out the soil, creating a perfect hole quickly and easily. There is usually a measurement guide on the side of the tool. A bulb auger, which is a clever power drill attachment, is the easiest and quickest option. It drills down into the soil to create a planting hole. In the absence of an auger, I use my soil knife, which makes it easy to carve into and pull away soil. A ruler along the side helps me with both the depth and spacing of my bulbs.
Place your hyacinth or muscari bulb in the hole with the roots pointing downwards and the pointy end pointing up towards the sky. Fill in the hole with the soil that you moved away.
What to do after planting your bulbs
Once you cover your hyacinth bulbs with soil, water the area thoroughly. After that, fall and winter weather will naturally provide the water the bulbs need to develop underground. The plants don’t respond well to too much moisture.
Squirrels and deer steer clear of hyacinths, but when I plant any bulb, I sprinkle a bit of hen manure to keep the squirrels from digging up the freshly turned soil to what’s underneath.
Planting hyacinth bulbs in containers
You can also plant hyacinths in containers, but in colder climates, you’ll need to store them over the winter in an unheated garage or garden shed to protect them so they don’t freeze. You can follow the same planting depth requirements, but the bulbs can be planted a little more shallowly, since they won’t be exposed to the elements over the winter.
Make sure your container is deep enough so that there is room for root growth underneath the bulb (and has a drainage hole). Fill the bottom with a moistened soilless mix, add the flower bulbs to the correct depth, and then fill the container to the top and water.
Other spring bulbs and planting tips
- When to plant daffodils
- Winter aconite: An early-spring bloomer
- How and when to fertilize flower bulbs
- Tips for tulip planting depth
- Planting perennial tulips
- Deer-resistant bulbs
- Unusual flower bulbs